In a time when right-wing politicians’ and parents’ efforts to ban kids from reading “controversial” books are leading to terrified teachers and empty school library shelves, Judy Blume’s story couldn’t be more timely or relevant. Blume shares her experiences as a frequently challenged – but even more frequently celebrated — children’s author in Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchuk’s engrossing documentary Judy Blume Forever, which sheds light on both Blume’s career and her personal life.
Naturally, the one had a strong influence on the other – as a young wife and mother in the early 1960s, Blume first started writing stories when her children were small and she wanted to try something different. She published her first book, The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969, and went on to write beloved children’s literature classics like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber, Deenie, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. And then, of course, there was Forever, the tender but very frank 1975 novel about teen sex that introduced millions of young readers to the topic. (And set many conservative pundits’ hair on figurative fire.)
Many of those readers – some of whom grew up to become writers themselves (Jaqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds) – are interviewed in the film, as are familiar faces like Molly Ringwald, Sam Bee, and Lena Dunham. All share their memories about discovering and falling in love with Blume’s books. Blume’s super power has always been that she takes kids and their worries (and joys) 100% seriously. She never condescends, and she makes kids of all types feel seen and understood. That empathy has long led to real connections with the young fans who wrote her countless letters, sharing their troubles and triumphs.
It has also always led her to scoff in the face of attempts to censor her work – or the work of any author. Clips of Blume defending her books and kids’ right to read whatever they want resonate especially strongly in the current political and cultural climate. With Judy Blume Forever, Pardo and Wolchuk have created both a fascinating look at a memorable life and a scathing reprimand for those who would seek to limit kids’ ability to seek out the stories that will best speak to their identities and experiences – and open their minds to others’ identities and experiences as well. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Sherin Nicole More than the author’s rise to icon status, Judy Blume Forever is a documentary about impact. Blume is a disruptor who changed the game for Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. Rather than use her stories to tell kids who they had to be, she wrote the truth about bodies we didn’t understand, feelings that overflowed, and parents who didn’t get it. Blume connected with the brain-blitzing experience of growing up and kids connected right back to her. Directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok understood the assignment, creating a documentary that reflects the way reading Blume’s books feels, while capturing the essence of her impact. The fact her unvarnished truth-telling led to the banning of her books, the marriages that crumbled but inspired more stories, and the fans (out in the world and in the industry) whom she either upraised or lifted to become impactful authors in their own rights. Judy Blume Forever is edifying because it ties Blume’s history to our now, but it is also sweetly nostalgic blended with salty realness. That’s what makes it such a treat.
Pam Grady: Lively, essential documentary tells the story of the pioneering novelist whose books like Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever… changed the course of young adult literature with her vibrant, realistic accounts of young lives. Frank in their depictions of adolescent concerns, especially sexuality, tweens and teens have flocked to her books for more than 50 years even as reactionary adults repeat calls to ban them. Now in her mid-80s, Blume is a vivid raconteur as she recalls her evolutions as a woman and a writer, while a chorus of voices, including younger writers and actors Molly Ringwald and Lena Dunham discuss Blume’s influence on them and on society at large. The most revelatory scenes are also the most moving as people who wrote to Blume in their youth, deeply personal correspondence that revealed troubled and sometimes abusive home lives, recall the difference she made by responding to them, acknowledging them and making them feel seen. The film is not fascinating biography but wonderful homage to an extraordinary woman.
Nell Minow: Judy Blume’s willingness to “speak the unspeakable” made her books foundational texts to generations of young people, especially girls, who read them to discover that they were not alone and that growing up did not have to be so terrifying. This documentary shows us that even more important was Blume’s deep empathy for her characters and for the readers who wrote to her to ask for help or just to tell her how much she meant to them. As we face yet another set of book bans from parents who want to make decisions not just for their children but for all children, recognizing the enduring appeal of her books and seeing how many adults still cherish them is even more important.
Nikki Fowler: Filmmakers Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok bring the absolute magic of the real-life journey of influential author Judy Blume to life in an intimate look at how she brought pure love, joy, and inspiration to readers worldwide. The biodoc shares details on how Blume got her start in writing. She was a young college graduate, newly married to her already established lawyer husband at the time, with him stating that he didn’t mind her hobby “as long as it didn’t interfere with raising their kids.” Read full review.
Leslie Combemale Blume speaks directly to the camera as she shares memories and considers moments of her life as a writer. She does it with the same blunt, insightful, clear-eyed voice that generations of readers, especially pre-teen and teenaged female readers, found at once spellbinding and instructive. Added to Blume’s remembrances, there is archival footage of her from various stages of her career, as she was interviewed or made appearances many times onscreen. There are also contributions of famous folks who love her books, like Molly Ringwald and Samantha Bee, as well as feminist and YA historians. Best of all in terms of really speaking to who Blume was to her audience, though, are the references to the many fan letters Blume received over the years, which she turned over to Yale in 2017. She corresponded with a number of her fans, including Lorrie Kim, interviewed in the documentary, who wrote her for many years starting as a 9-year-old. In one letter, Kim wrote Blume had taught her about her period, a subject her own mother had avoided. If you don’t already love Judy Blume, you will after this documentary. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Judy Blume Forever, an informative and entertaining biodoc about the one and only Judy Blume, the prolific author of best-selling YA books, including Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, which has been adapted for the screen and is opening on April 28. Margaret is a teen reading staple for millions of Blume devotees around the world, and this documentary will fill them in on everything they might want to know about Judy. Smartly directed by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchuk, Judy Blume Forever, blooms with with Judy’s wise and optimistic declarations, onscreen interviews with fans of all ages, and enjoyable animated illustrations. The documentary is a great double bill with Margaret, Tiger Eyes (2012) or any of Blume’s oeuvre in print or on screen.
Loren King Even if you’ve never cracked open one of Judy Blume’s dozens of novels, this candid, engaging look at the author’s life and work is an enjoyable and enlightening way to spend 90 minutes. Blume — forthright, gracious, down to earth — is great company over the course of the film. She recounts how she willed her transformation from 1960s housewife to the defining author of YA fiction in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She made the transition to adult fiction and survived the first wave of right wing censorship in the 1980s when the Moral Majority found an ally in President Ronald Reagan. Read full review.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Judy Blume Forever is an entertaining and honest documentary about legendary author Judy Blume’s life and career. Directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchuk interview not only Judy (one of children’s literature’s most influential writers) herself but also speak to an array of current bestselling children’s and young adult authors, actors, friends, and family members to discuss the author’s impact and legacy. Most extraordinarily, the documentary includes letters from children who wrote the author, a few of them who became Blume’s devoted correspondents for years. The filmmakers manage to make the biographical documentary both educational and entertaining. While the documentary is mostly a tribute to Blume, it doesn’t shy away from the difficulties and losses she faced, including two divorces, the death of her father when she was 21, and the fact that many of her books were routinely challenged and placed on banned book lists.
Cate Marquis With the movie version of Judy Blume’s classic Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret soon to open, it is perfect timing for an insightful documentary about the beloved author herself. Judy Blume’s books, with their realism, honesty and frankness about sex and other matters, changed children’s literature forever and pretty much invented the young adult genre. Judy Blume Forever is an affectionate and honest look at the personal life and career of Judy Blume, featuring the author herself, famous fans such as Lena Dunham, Molly Ringwald and Samantha Bee, and some of the many young fans she corresponded with over the years. Best of all, this well-done documentary from filmmakers Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchuk puts Judy and her books in context of the changing times, in which she grew up and then when her beloved but often controversial books were written. As one speaker notes, her books were timely, but have now becomes timeless. Anyone who grew up reading Judy Blume’s books, or who is just curious about this wildly-popular author who spoke so honestly to children, especially girls, will be fascinated by this warm, revealing documentary.
Title: Judy Blume Forever
Directors: Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok
Release Date: April 21, 2033
Running Time: 97 minutes
Screenwriters: Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok – Documentary
Distribution Company: Amazon Prime
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Nikki Fowler, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore
Edited by Jennifer Merin